Art talk

Artists Sara Tabbert, left, and Elizabeth Eero Irving, right, talk to Jess Peña, center, executive director of the Fairbanks Arts Association, following a meeting Friday, July 5, 2019, in Bear Gallery in which local artists and creators talked about the future of the organization and the arts in Fairbanks in response to Gov. Mike Dunleavy's budget vetoes. 

Fairbanks artists and creators deliberated the future of the arts and arts organizations in Interior Alaska Friday in response to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s vetoes to the state’s operating budget.

The attendees met in Bear Gallery at the behest of the Fairbanks Arts Organization, a nonprofit group that is one of the driving forces in the local art world. Eighteen artists attended the public meeting, representing mediums from writing to visual arts to dance and music. A large part of the conversation centered on the importance of arts education in Alaska, which would take a hit if the Legislature upholds the governor’s vetoes.

“My high school art teacher is the only reason I stayed in school,” artist Elizabeth Eero Irving, who was born and raised in Fairbanks, said.

Dunleavy announced more than $400 million in cuts to the state’s operating budget June 28, which included the elimination of the Alaska State Council on the Arts. The 54-year-old organization facilitated Alaska art and artists and helped fund such programs as Artists in Schools and art programs for veterans suffering from PTSD. The council also awarded grants to artists and arts organizations as well as maintained the Alaska Contemporary Art Bank, an art library of sorts in which Alaska art could be loaned to agencies around the state, including the governor’s office in Juneau.

The arts association has been keeping its members abreast of the cuts and the impact it will have locally, Jess Peña, executive director of the Fairbanks Arts Association, said.

“Our plan is to keep pumping out information to our members as much as we can. The loss of grants impacts artists, and the loss of the university impacts the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival and the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra,” she said, referencing Dunleavy’s cutting of the University of Alaska budget via veto by $130 million. 

Peña took a big picture approach to the cuts, saying, “We are interconnected in the web our community has woven.”

“The work you all do is a driver in tourism,” she said, adding visitors stay longer and spend more money in areas that have active public art programs. “It is a misconception you won’t be affected because it is all interconnected.”

For the Fairbanks Arts Association, the financial slashing means its board will meet soon to determine what cuts it will have to make locally. With Dunleavy’s elimination of the Alaska State Council of the Arts, the Fairbanks Arts Association lost an $18,900 grant that went toward its operating budget and a $15,000 Artists in Schools grant. The schools grant is a matching grant, meaning the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District would have given $15,000 as well.

“Fairbanks Arts Association has had a really long relationship with the state arts council, with one of those key relationships being as a recipient of different kinds of funding, including operating, support grants and Artists in Schools grants, and at various points in time, grants for special projects or funds to assist with traveling exhibits or performances through the Harper Arts Touring Grant,” Peña said. “Something that is going to be difficult for us in the coming months is if the defunding of ASCA stands, many nonprofits will struggle when it comes to operating funds. Operating grants are really valuable.”

Talk during the meeting also covered action by the local arts community, with attendees referencing contacting legislators via calls or emails to attending public demonstrations and becoming vocal on social media.

“If there is a rally, go,” writer Linda Schandelmeier said. “We have to show up. Are we making noise?,” she asked, to which another crowd member replied, “It is crucial we get off our ass.” 

Right now, Peña said, she is focusing on getting the word out on what these cuts mean for Interior Alaska.

“Artists and arts groups are resourceful,” she said. “We will get through it.”

Funding Loss

With the elimination of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the following Fairbanks arts organizations are losing operating budget grants. Operating grants are not the same as performance grants as operational grants are intended to assist in day to day organizational costs. 

• Fairbanks Drama Association — $8,000

• Fairbanks Arts Association — $18,900

• Fairbanks Concert Association — $21,000

• Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival — $13,950

• Fairbanks Symphony Association — $17,500

• North Star Dance Foundation — $5,000

Contact Features Editor Gary Black at 459-7504 or on Twitter at